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Drink Good Coffee, See More Birds

By Nic.Korte

As I sat down to write, visiting in Illinois, my dad just offered me a cup of coffee--Folger's "Mountain Grown." Oh really!  I might drink a cup, but this is not my brand. 
I have stopped here to visit family on the way home from Costa Rica where I've just spent ten days in the jungle seeing a variety of exotic birds, snakes and being fodder for too many varieties of insects. 
If I'm passionate about birds, I can be tiresome about coffee.  What's the link?  Last week in Costa Rica, I saw several yellow warblers.

I also saw olive-sided flycatchers perched on the top of jungle trees just as they perch on top of spruce on Grand Mesa.  Yesterday, near a lake here in my home town, I saw an Eastern Kingbird (an occasional visitor/resident in the Grand Valley) as I'd seen one last week in a jungle clearing in Costa Rica.    Here's the point, approximately 250 species of birds in North America spend most of their lives in the tropics.  These species account for 1/3 to 1/4 of all species in North America but an even larger percentage of what we tend to think of as "our" songbirds.
  Yellow warblers are very common around GJ in the summer.  They nest in cottonwoods and willows in the lower valley and in aspen in the higher mountains.  You can hear their call ("sweet-sweet-a little bit sweet") on the golf course, in a walk through a park, and floating the river.  Yellow warblers are a species we consider our own, but are arguably tropical species that travel here for a few months to breed. (Maybe we do the same thing in reverse--anyone reading this ever take a romantic vacation to the tropics?) The yellow warbler typically lives here for about four months (mid-May to mid-Sept.) although there are stragglers and early-birds that extend the official sighting period.
  What does this have to do with coffee? A lot! A prominent ornithologist has said, "If you want to do one thing for migratory birds, drink shade-grown coffee."  Coffee is grown in the tropics and it is done in two ways: sun or shade.  Think of a sun coffee field as the biological equivalent of a soybean field or a cotton field.  How many birds’ nests and types of birds will you see amidst a monoculture of soybeans or cotton?
  Shade-grown (and organic) coffee is grown as an understory plant.  That is, it needs tall trees overhead.  Yields are less.  Connoisseurs, however, claim it tastes better. It certainly tastes better to me because, as a consumer, I am helping a market that is definitely doing the right thing.  My favorite source for organic coffee, from a farm I've visited a couple of times, is Cafe Cristina (, Costa Rica.  You can order the coffee on-line.  They will tell you the light roast has the most flavor although the medium roast is their biggest seller.  Oh, and the bird list for their farm has more than 300 species which includes many migrants we in the US anticipate arriving each spring.  According to an article posted by the Smithsonian, sun-grown coffee plantations may harbor as few as 4 migratory species ( {This post was written by Nic Korte, photo by Jackson Trappett, Grand Valley Audubon Society.  Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, such as weekly bird walks, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!] 



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